Ryerson Urban Farm springs forward
Downtown Toronto can feel as cold and sterile as any big city but venture up to the roof of the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre from May to October and step into a green oasis. Surrounded by concrete and glass highrises, the Ryerson Urban Farm (RUF) grows thousands of pounds of fresh, organic produce on the quarter-acre Andrew and Valerie Pringle Environmental Green Roof.
From kale to kohlrabi, more than 50 crops are distributed among Ryerson Eats, the Ryerson Market, the Good Food Centre and a Harvest Share/Community Supported Agriculture program.
Named for a gift from the Pringle family (Valerie is an RTA graduate), the green roof was built in 2004. It was converted to a rooftop farm in 2013 by RUF, which grew out of a student-led initiative to grow food on campus.
“What we’re doing is so innovative; we’re inventing systems as we go along,” said Arlene Throness, urban farm manager. “We’re now a department within University Business Services, and it’s exciting to see that a farm can become part of the institutional landscape, producing food on campus rooftops and creating opportunities for education and research.”
To that end, crop weight, yield, and other information is tracked to calculate costs, improve processes and create a replicable model for others. “We’re collecting data on the farm so anyone who wants to replicate what we’re doing will have a blueprint of what we’ve learned,” said Throness.
RUF’s success has led to the building of a second rooftop farm, atop the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, scheduled to open this year. It will be the first purpose-built green roof designed specifically for growing edible plants under the City of Toronto’s green roof bylaw.
“Overall, I’m blown away by how much people enjoy spending time up there,” said Throness. “We’ve created a natural space in the heart of the city.”
New for 2019
- Living Lab: This year a generous gift from Andrew and Valerie Pringle will turn the urban farm into a Living Lab. “[The Lab will] bring together researchers across disciplines and industry partners to develop resources that will support the rooftop farm industry here in Toronto and beyond,” said Throness.
- Urban Farm Stand: The Farmers’ Market is on hold this year, said Throness, due to campus core revitalization construction. As a result, the Ryerson Urban Farm Stand will sell produce outside the Hub Café, first floor of Jorgenson Hall, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 12 to 1 p.m., from May 22 to October 18, (which coincides with the Harvest Share pick-up time/location).
- Zero waste initiative: Visitors to the Urban Farm Stand are encouraged to bring reusable bags and containers for their purchases, or to purchase a new RUF tote bag at the stand. “We are working on significantly reducing our packaging in a move towards zero waste,” explained Throness.